Another Albuquerque Open Space Hike

Today seemed like a good day to do another hike at one of the Albuquerque Open Space areas. The “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque” book that has helped us discover many good trails since we moved here, had a description for a 4-mile hike at the Las Huertas Open Space near Placitas.
On the Albuquerque Open Space map posted with the Manzano Open space hike, Las Huertas is the northernmost small, green polygon at the top of the map.

Las Huertas is less than 600 acres, but it adjoins a large area of BLM land. Most of today’s hike was on BLM land, not on the Open Space. This meant a day of wandering on unmarked trails, constantly looking at the description in the book to make sure I was on track. There were a few times of confusion given the numerous dirt roads and trails that are usually on BLM land this close to an urban area, but I managed to figure things out without getting lost. With all of the surrounding open desert country and the landmark mountains in the distance, it would be hard to really get lost, anyway.

The Open Space is named for Las Huertas Creek, which starts just below Capulin Peak, about 8,600 feet up in the Sandia Mountains to the south. There may be water in it somewhere up there, but I should have known that this would be a typical New Mexico watershed that is just a dry, sandy creek bed. The first section of the hike, less than a mile from the start, leads you towards the creek. Then a lot of the walking either parallels or descends into the stream bed.

There wasn’t much in the way of scenery, but as the trail ascended a couple of hills and ridges I enjoyed identifying many of our Albuquerque area landmarks in the distance . And I can check off another hike from the “60 miles” book, as well as another Albuquerque Open Space.

Gate to enter Las Huertas Open Space.
Gate to enter Las Huertas Open Space.
Looking south towards the Sandia Mountains.
Looking south towards the Sandia Mountains.
Unfortunately, this was the only place on the hike with a trail sign.
Unfortunately, this was the only place on the hike with a trail sign.
Beginning section of trail as it heads towards the creek.
Beginning section of trail as it heads towards the creek.
Did I actually expect to see water when the trail arrived at  Las Huertas creek?
Did I actually expect to see water when the trail arrived at Las Huertas creek?
View of mesa country on the Santa Ana and San Felipe reservations.
View of mesa country on the Santa Ana and San Felipe reservations.
View of Jemez Mountains to the northwest.
View of Jemez Mountains to the northwest.

Map and GPS track on Every Trail.

Polar Vortex or Pino Trail?

Polar Vortex?
Polar Vortex?

Maybe we were trying to identify with the rest of the country that is feeling the effects of the “polar vortex” causing record breaking cold weather in much of the nation. Living in New Mexico, even in January, there are plenty of hikes out in the desert that don’t require trudging through snow and ice. Whatever the reason, the hike we decided on today was a steep, 9.2 mile hike in the Sandia Mountains on the Pino Trail, that we knew would have wintery conditions.

This trail begins in the Sandia foothills at the Elena Gallegos Open Space, heading east along Pino Canyon and ending at the ridgeline between Sandia Crest and South Peak. Lee and I had done this trail once before, but we did it before the winter snows came to the mountains. I wouldn’t have thought of doing a hike in the winter months in this area, but that was before I knew there was such a thing as YakTrax. For those of you, like me, who don’t pay much attention to equipment for winter sports, YakTrax are devices that attach to the bottom of your boots to give you traction for walking on packed snow and ice. My friend said she had a pair that I could borrow, if I wanted to do the hike. I’m willing to try just about anything at least once. So up we went.

Why couldn't we stay down here in the nice, dry desert?
Why couldn’t we stay down here in the nice, dry desert?

Reaching icy sections and stopping to put on YakTrax.
Reaching icy sections and stopping to put on YakTrax.

My boot with the nifty YakTrax
My boot with the nifty YakTrax

There was definitely packed snow and ice on the trail and I’m not sure I would have made it safely up and back down, if I hadn’t had the YakTrax. The climb up is hard enough without having to deal with an icy trail. There were also many fallen trees along the way that we had to struggle over or under or around.

Example of the many fallen trees across the trail.
Example of the many fallen trees across the trail.

Trudging along through the snow.
Trudging along through the snow.
Breaks from the snowy sections on south-facing slopes.
Breaks from the snowy sections on south-facing slopes.
A long snowy section of trail that made us think it would be nice to have a toboggan for the trip down.
A long snowy section of trail that made us think it would be nice to have a toboggan for the trip down.
View from the top
View from the top

Pino Trail on the Crest connects to Cienega Trail that goes down the ridge on the other side of the Crest.
Pino Trail on the Crest connects to Cienega Trail that goes down from the ridge on the other side of the Crest.
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The EveryTrail GPS track of our climb up the Pino Trail. Remember this is only half of what we did, because we also had to come back down.

As difficult as the climb is, once at the top it’s well worth the effort. And I’m really thankful that I could do a hike today when so many other people are dealing with sub-zero temperatures and can’t even get outdoors at all. I’ll take the Pino Trail over the Polar Vortex any day.